The role of green space in cities
Will the value of green space in our cities be recognised as a way to increase the real estate value and attractiveness of our cities, or will the pressures of simply using all available space for development prevent us from adding new green space to our cities?
Reassuringly, green space is increasingly considered to be key to future city living – it helps to create an urbanity which ensures that urbanisation and regeneration respects and fulfils human needs.
Green space arguably improves the image of cities; offers a destination for human interaction, providing versatility for events; and helps to establish the character of a place within the city for fun, recreation and meeting, not just living and working.
There’s good evidence that people are increasingly valuing green space in their towns and cities. UK Urban green spaces saw an estimated 1.46 billion visits in 2015-2016 compared with 1.16 billion visits in 2009-2010, an increase of 25% in 6 years, or about 4% per year. If that trend continues, we can expect around 3 billion visits by 2040. Young people, families with children and people without a car were more likely to visit urban green spaces than go further afield.
Not surprisingly, green space can be shown to have a positive impact on house prices – one 2014 study on Belfast found increases in value of nearly 50%, while another on London found a 4% uplift on average.
Figure 1: Top three cities for accessible green space
Source: Ordnance Survey Greenspace Map, cited in The Scotsman
However, this more intensively used space is not necessarily being protected – with an NPFA (now Fields in Trust) study finding that 34,000 sports pitches were lost to development over a 13 year period (1992-2005). A 2018 Ordnance Survey blog found only 17,000 playing fields in England (a field includes two to three pitches on average), which compares with 21,000 sites found by the NPFA in 2005. That’s 308 sites every year. If that rate of loss were to continue, England could lose up to 6,700 playing fields by 2040, leaving just over 10,000 left. It seems likely that the previous rate of loss will slow, making this a likely maximum loss – but even so it is quite substantial.
However, as our cities get richer and more populated over the next 20 years, we can expect the sporting and social demand for green space (whether playing fields or parks) to get stronger, and that existing spaces will get more intensively used, especially if the current trend towards city centre repopulation continues.
While it is already the case that many urban greenspaces are heavily protected, playing fields and other greenspaces at the edge of cities may be more exposed to development unless they are classified as Green Belt (or a similarly tough designation). If cities get physically bigger and richer, we expect that the development of green spaces will become even more contested and controversial in 2040 than it is now.